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Dave Van Ronk, the Real Llewyn Davis

By John Morthland, Contributor

How important a figure was Dave Van Ronk on the Greenwich Village folk scene in its heyday? Consider the description of Bob Dylan, who was befriended by Van Ronk upon his arrival in New York in 1961, in his own memoir, Chronicles: "He was passionate and stinging, sang like a soldier of fortune and sounded like he paid the price. Van Ronk could howl and whisper, turn blues into ballads and ballads into blues. I… more »

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Nashville and the Art of the Fake Country Song

By Rob Harvilla, Contributor

[This piece contains spoilers from the ABC show Nashville — read at your own peril. — Ed.] Let us now consider Nashville, ABC's one-hour, primetime, moderately prestigious grand ole soap opry that seeks to triangulate Glee and Dallas by depicting the tawdry, bed-swapping, alarmingly pouty-faced back- and onstage shenanigans of (fictional) country music stars. Each episode boasts a handful of new songs — some pretty good, a few transcendent, most of 'em for sale. (We're on… more »

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“Weird Al” Yankovic, Mandatory Fun

2014 | Label: RCA Records Label

The announcement came in the middle of June: Accordion-wielding parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic would be releasing an album, his first since 2011′s Alpocalypse, in about a month. Details were scant — the reveal itself was cryptic, just a picture of Yankovic in military garb with “JULY 15″ in a vaguely dictatorial font. In the weeks leading up to the album, details about what songs and artists would fall in Al’s friendly crosshairs were scant. The only bread crumbs offered were a title, Mandatory Fun, and a few dictator-themed teaser… more »

Hedwig and the Angry Inch Original Broadway Cast Recording

2014 | Label: Atlantic Records

The rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch began as a vehicle for its writer/star John Cameron Mitchell to strut his stuff at Manhattan’s queer rock club Squeezebox, where Steven Trask’s band Cheater backed drag entertainers. The son of an Army Major General who commanded the U.S. occupation of West Berlin, Mitchell was inspired by the story of his former babysitter, a German-born prostitute who married a U.S. G.I. and ended up in a Kansas trailer park. Before Trask had finished composing the work’s original material, Mitchell started telling Hedwig‘s… more »

Various Artists, Inner City Beat: Detective Themes, Spy Music and Imaginary Thrillers 1967-1977

2014 | Label: Soul Jazz Records / Redeye

The popularity of the movie soundtrack as standalone album is perhaps now at its peak, with numerous hip archival labels, such as Trunk Records, Death Waltz and Finders Keepers, dedicated to releasing overlooked, obscure or previously lost scores from old films. And thanks in large part to DJ Shadow, Portishead and David Holmes — who used cinematic samples to create their own panoramas — the concept of the soundtrack to an imaginary movie is now so well established it’s a genre in its own right.

Inner City Beat, then, feeds… more »

Michael Nyman, The Piano Sings, Vol. 2)

2013 | Label: MN Records / Zebralution

It’s possible you only know Michael Nyman as a film composer, either for his scores for most of the early Peter Greenaway movies (say The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover) or his score to Jane Campion’s The Piano. But there is more to him than that — he is one of the first composers to bring the pulse-pound of rock ‘n’ roll to a more formalized setting, writing what is, in essence, classically crafted pop material with a slight edge and a wider variety. He’s not only… more »